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WORLD FOLK TALES - CHINA

Natural Enemies
A Chinese Tale

A long time ago there was an old man who lived in a house down a city alley. High walls hid it from view. He had no family and his only company was a cat and dog.
He never went out to work. He didn't even go out t buy food. No one ever visited him. Naturally, everyone was very curious. But one thief was especially curious.

One night he snuck into a neighbor's courtyard and peeked over the walls. He saw a wonderful garden full of strange stones and waterfalls. In the center of the garden was a house fancy enough for an emperor.

The curious thief climbed over the wall and stole through the garden and into the house. The inside of the house was filled with fine furniture and antiques. Finally, he found the old man in the dining room. Tall pillars of red lacquer ran the length of the room. Gold covered the carvings on the sides of the pillars. On the beams of the ceiling were painted different scenes of China.

The table and chairs were carved from rare purple woods. The old man sat in one chair with both a cat and a dog balanced on his lap. But there were neither plates of food on the table nor any servants to serve them.

The old man smiled at the dog. "And what do you want to eat tonight?"

The dog gave a bark and the old man nodded. "I thought so." He picked up a long slender ivory wand. The stem curved upward to a carved lotus. "As you like it, as I like it, I would like some beef stew."

A big golden bowl of beef stew popped into the air above the table and landed with a clank in front of the dog. The smell was delicious, and he happily began to wolf down his food.

"And what do you want?" the old man asked his cat. The cat merely licked her paws. "The same as usual, I suppose." The old man wished on the wand, and a big steaming carp appeared before the cat. With a disgusted look at the dog, the cat began to eat daintily.

Then the old man wished up his dinner on the wand. There were precious plates of gold encrusted with jewels and bowls carved from solid pieces of jade. But after the old man had drunk his wine, he gave a big yawn. "I think it's time for bed."

He wished the dirty plates all away, and then he and his two pets headed into the bedroom where he lay down on a big four-poster bed covered with silk and pearls. The dog and cat raced for the bed; but though the dog could run faster, the cat could leap higher. She got to the head of the bed first so the dog had to go to the foot.

"Leave some room for me," the old man laughed. He eased in between his two jealous pets. Soon the three were fast asleep.

The thief waited patiently until the old man and his pets had begun to snore. Then he snuck into the room and stole the wand.

The next morning, the old man woke and found his wand was missing. He hid his face in his hands and wept. "I'm ruined. Ruined! And I'm too old to go looking for the thief."

But then he felt something wet on the backs of his hands and he looked up to see that it was his cat and dog licking him. He put his hand on the dog. "Will you be my strong legs and go find him?'' The dog's big tongue licked his hand again.

The old man looked at his cat. "Will you be my clever mind and get the wand?" And the cat's small tongue tickled his other hand.

The two loyal pets left the old man. They looked all over China. They lived by their skills and their wits. The dog sniffed around in alleys for things that people threw out. Sometimes, he had to fight the other beggars. But the dog was big and strong so he always won. He always shared his meals with the cat.

The cat learned how to leap up through kitchen windows and steal food. Often she would eat most of it inside the house. Then she would bring the leftovers to the dog.

Eventually, the two animals heard of a rich man who had appeared out of nowhere. A broad, swift river separated them from his house. "You're strong enough to bear me," the cat said. "You carry me."

"But don't dig in your claws," the dog warned and crouched. The cat leaped onto his back, and the dog slipped into the river. The water was so cold and swift that the dog soon grew tired.

"I can't do it," the dog groaned.

"Yes, you can," the cat urged. "Think of home. Think of hot meals and soft silk."

So the dog went on until he climbed out exhausted on the opposite bank. "Now for the wand," the cat said. She wasn't tired at all and sped up the hill.

"Wait for me," the dog called and, shaking himself off, trotted after the cat.

But the cat did not want to wait for the big, slow dog. She dashed ahead impa-tiently. By now she was an expert at sneaking into houses. She crept silently into the villa. When she heard footsteps, she ducked behind a vase.

The thief strode by in a robe of silk embroidered with gold. Around his neck hung the wand on a golden chain. But he was not as careless as the old man. Two guards accompanied him at all times.

Going outside, the cat just stopped the dog from blundering inside. "We'll have to use both your strength and my wits to get the wand," she explained.

"Anything for the master," the dog promised.

They waited until the thief went for a walk in his garden. The dog suddenly darted out from under a bush and past the two startled guards and leaped on the thief, knocking him over.

"Stop him," the thief shouted frantically. The two guards could not use their swords because they might hurt their employer. Instead, they tried to pull the dog away.

While the dog was fighting for his life, the cat shot in like a small streak of fur. Perching on the rich man's chest, she pressed her paws against the wand. When the thief reached for the wand, the cat bit his hand so he snatched it back.

Silently, the cat wished, "As you like it, as I like it, I would like to be back home with the wand."

As the cat began to fade from sight, the dog barked at her. "Wait for me, wait for me."

But the cat vanished from sight.

The next moment, she was back in the old man's bedroom. The old man lay in a ragged robe on a simple straw mat. He had sold everything else to pay his debts. Through the window, the cat could see that the garden itself had fallen into ruin.

"Thank Heaven, you've come back," the old man said. "I was getting so lonely. I don't care whether you brought back the wand."

But the cat picked up the wand in her mouth and brought it over to the old man. Gently she let it drop into the old man's lap.

"You did bring it back!" the old man cried out. "You blessed animal." He held out his hand. "But where's our other friend? Didn't he come with you? Or did he get tired and go off on his own?"

The cat simply looked up at the old man, and the old man reached his own hasty conclusions. While the old man cursed the dog, the cat curled up on his knees. Both the lap and the magic were hers now.

The old man wished the thief to his just reward and then restored the house. But he never gave another thought to the dog until months later. Suddenly there was a familiar barking outside the gates.

The old man opened them to see his tired, dusty dog. One ear was torn, and he was badly scratched. The old man frowned. "Now that the cat's made everything right, you've decided to come back. Well, it's too late."

The cat, fat and sleek, strolled up behind the old man. "Tell him, tell him," the dog barked angrily.

But the cat merely began to lick itself. And then the old man had shut the gates on the dog. "Stop making so much noise," the old man shouted over the gates. "Or I'll send you to the Himalayas."

The dog slunk away so the cat had the old man all to herself. But all dogs remember the cat's treachery, and dogs have hated cats ever since then.


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